On the road to Rhodes

Exhausted from standing in the burning sun of the Beit Bridge border and dealing with its long-winded officialdom, we stopped only once, for an ice-cold dry lemon at a spaza on the roadside, then pushed on to Bulawayo.

In a lay-by a few kilometres south of the city, a horde of hardy Ndebele women were flogging red onions and pumpkins alongside one of the $1 toll booths that now liberally sprinkle Zimbabwe’s thoroughfares. Cheerful pedestrians milled around in the hot afternoon sun, their smiles darkening only momentarily as a dusty twister blew through.

A bored policeman had recently and disinterestedly checked our vehicle papers before waving us on but Karen, our trusty Garmin Australian, was uncharacteristically confused (we found that Karen, with her obvious aboriginal roots, pronounced African names better than Serena, her pukka British counterpart).

We weren’t exactly lost. We were on Cecil Rhodes’s road on what is, I suppose nowadays, a somewhat politically incorrect pilgrimage to his grave. This required, we realised, a small detour from his Cape-to-Cairo route, up to the hills and balancing rocks of the Matopos. We just weren’t sure which was the quickest route, the afternoon was wearing on and we still had a tent to pitch.

We hailed a would-be red-onion-buyer, a tall man in his 30s, an oversized mac shielding him from the blazing sun. Hello. How are you? Fine and you? Fine and you? Fine and you? Etcetera. One must be especially polite when seeking directions from people in foreign climes.

“Which way to Matobo?” I asked, pleased with myself for using the new name of the park where Rhodes companionably shares his impressive World’s View resting place with his old buddy Leander Starr Jameson, eponymous of raid fame, Patrick Coghlan, a former Rhodesian PM; and sundry victims of the Shangani raid.

“‘Matopos?” said Mac-man, using the old name with reckless abandon.

“Yes, please. There seem to be hundreds of roads to Rhodes,” I jested, pointlessly.

“No there aren’t!” he politely corrected me, going on to prove himself conclusively wrong. “Travel straight for 3km, then, at the second junction, turn left into Cecil Avenue and go 1km, turn right and then left into Matopos Road.”

Cecil Avenue sounded promising.

“Or carry on and just before the Ascot Racecourse, turn left and go 1km and turn right and then left into Matopos Road.”

“Or go a bit further and at the Kenilworth Towers skyscraper and the Ascot Shopping Centre turn left .

“Or go on past the museum and Centenary Park and then left onto Matopos Road.

“Or just go straight and ask somebody,” Mac-man helpfully added at the end.

We decided to go straight on. Bulawayo is renowned for its wide streets in which you can turn a full span of oxen, so a U-turn in a bakkie wouldn’t be a problem if we went wrong.

What a place. Broekie-lace abundant in faded colonial glory; many mock-Tudor mansions with ill-fitting tiled roofs. The Natural History Museum with the world’s finest collection of stuffed animals and birds. Everywhere, Bulawayo’s droopy-Y-shaped streetlights towered above us. This was no longer a decaying city. It was alive with traffic and commerce.

But I digress. We had a grave to find and we were looking for Matopos Road.

Which was all very well except that it isn’t called Matopos Road until further out of town. Numerous oxen-free U-turns later, we found it. It’s called Samuel Parirenyatwa Road.

Karen, who would later in the trip get horribly confused trying to find the “Hwan”‘ National Park, says Parirenyatwa much better than I do. Nevertheless, it seems after all that Mac-man was right. All roads lead to Rhodes.